The Yellow Christ

Hello, helloooo dearest friends! Hope this blog post finds you well. Holy days are upon us: Passover on Friday and Easter on Sunday, in a rare occurrence of those two holidays coinciding on the same weekend. Cool!

So I was perusing art images of crucifixion and resurrection, the majority of which are faithful, reverent depictions of Biblical events. All brilliant, painstaking works of art that are masterpieces of traditional painting. But I decided to post a more unconventional work by an appropriately unconventional man – French Post-Impressionist/Symbolist painter Paul Gauguin. I always find it interesting when an artist gives a traditional, religious subject an unorthodox treatment. Not degradingly unorthodox, but something unique and unusual in how it employs artistic elements.

Gauguin’s 1889 work, The Yellow Christ, is an example of an artwork that boldly deviates from a realistic, “documentary” style recounting of an event, in this case Christ’s crucifixion. Instead, Gauguin depicts the scene using simplified shapes, bold lines, flat forms, and colors that are not naturalistic. He bathes the Christ figure, and much of the background, in yellow, a pigment one normally associates with cheerfulness and warmth. However, contrary to its reputation, yellow can also have an agitating effect when viewed with focus and intensity, which makes Gauguin’s choice even more intriguing.

Also, look closely at the face of Christ in this painting. It is the face of Gauguin himself. Now Gauguin was certainly not the only painter to insert his own likeness onto a figure. But this is no ordinary figure. This is Christ. Would it be unfair of us then to infer that Gauguin had something of a martyr complex? Probably not.

The Yellow Christ was painted in Pont-Aven in the Brittany region of France. Indeed, the women in the scene are portrayed by Gauguin as Breton women, not the Biblical Marys we expect to see in this narrative. And the landscape appears more like the French countryside than the rocks of Calvary. But accuracy was not Gauguin’s concern, nor should it be a concern of any artist. Gauguin’s sensibilities famously gravitated toward the primitive, the unrefined, the unspoiled. His version of the crucifixion here is both odd and striking. The Christ is disturbingly gaunt but he is also dominant in the setting. Some, not all, of the old masterworks of the crucifixion scene are cluttered and busy, whereas Gauguin’s is stark, direct, and vivid. Simplified.

You can examine, compare and contrast other art crucifixion paintings at this gallery. In the meantime, have a joyous weekend my Museworthy friends. Peace and blessings to each and every one of you. See you next week 🙂

4 thoughts on “The Yellow Christ

  1. fredh1 says:

    I love this piece – such a fresh approach to an image burdened with iconographic conventions. The crucifix here is a symbol of faith but it is also a part of the landscape, which is vibrantly autumnal. The treatment is not pious or conventional, but it is gentle and luminous.

    There’s a short Wikipedia article on this painting that has a picture of the medieval painted wooden crucifix from a church in Pont-Aven that is the model for the Christ in the painting. The original carving does indeed have a yellow tone. There’s also a link to a less-well-known Gauguin painting, “The Green Christ”, which is apparently based on another sculpture, a bronze pieta. It’s interesting to compare these with Gauguin’s Tahitian painting “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?”, which is also an arrangement of figures around a religious statue. That painting is predominantly blue, in contrast to the yellow and green of the Christs.

    Thank you for sharing this ray of sunlight for Easter, and Happy Easter to you and yours!

    • artmodel says:

      Fred,

      Yes, I saw “The Green Christ” through Wiki. i have known “The Yellow Christ” for years but the Green was new to me. Liked it very much, but the Yellow is superior I think. I actually considered posting the two pieces together, but decided to let the Yellow Christ stand alone.

      I agree with all your remarks about the painting. It’s a fantastic piece. Vibrant, imaginative, and effective both artistically and spiritually. I love that Gauguin made the setting in Pont-Aven rather than the historical site of crucifixion. And I especially like the Breton women kneeling at the base of the cross.

      Thanks so much, Fred, for your wonderful comments. A blessed Easter to you, friend. See you soon!

      Claudia

  2. Jennifer says:

    I know this painting from my Art History years but probably haven’t seen it for a long time. Seeing it again, the yellow is truly striking, especially as it was used for both the figure and the background. Certainly a very brave choice of colour to use for such an emotive subject.

    Hope you had a good Easter. It was busy at this end!

    • artmodel says:

      Jennifer,

      I figured you were busy during these past couple of weeks. Hope this holiday time was busy in the best of ways. Joyous blessings to you and your family. Thanks so much for your comments on this bold, artistic Gauguin painting.

      Claudia

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